National legislation could impact MP district

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By Katie Zerr 

The Mobridge-Pollock School District is set to benefit from legislation introduced last week by members of the South Dakota Congressional delegation to bring federal dollars back to the state’s school through the Impact Aid program.

Last week Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced legislation to improve the federal Impact Aid program’s efficiency by permanently simplifying payment calculation, resulting in the ability for school districts to receive payments in a most timely  manner. Impact Aid school districts receive compensation from the federal government for local taxes lost on account of federal land within their school districts, such as the land that was inundated by the water of the Missouri River when the government built dams along the river. The Local Taxpayer Relief Act would also improve the Impact Aid program to ensure schools that have consolidated continue to be eligible for Impact Aid. The legislation removes a provision added in 1994 that precludes first-time districts from applying after a period of time following the reauthorization, which is considered an unfair provision.

The Mobridge-Pollock School District, because it is a consolidated district, has not received the impact aid because the two districts combined in 2008. This legislation addresses the unintended consequences of the 2001 reauthorization that disallowed combined districts to receive their impact aid funding. The bill allows a district to carry its eligibility to a new school district formed as the result of district consolidation. Current law is written so this only applies if consolidation occurred for fiscal year 1994 or any preceding fiscal year. Language picks up with districts consolidating for fiscal year 2006 and all succeeding fiscal years.

“These bipartisan, common-sense changes make the Impact Aid program run more efficiently and ensure that school districts with federal lands will receive their payments in a more timely fashion,” said Thune. “I appreciate the work the school districts in South Dakota have done to bring these issues to my attention and look forward to continuing to work with them in the future to make this program more cost-efficient for everyone involved.”

The Pollock District before consolidation was receiving impact aid for land that was taken by the federal government to make room for the Oahe Reservoir.

Mobridge-Pollock School Board President Harry “Bingo” Kindt said to a district like Mobridge-Pollock every dollar of extra funding is crucial.

“Seventy thousand a year may not mean much to districts in Sioux Falls or Rapid City, but we could do a lot with that funding,” he said. “To us it would allow us to expand our technology or hire a math teacher.”

The district hasn’t received that aid since consolidation and Kindt said it is hard to understand the reasoning.

“It does not make any sense,” he said. “That land is still underwater.”

Last year, Thune worked with Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Representative Kristi Noem (R-S.D) to enact a provision in the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. The legislation ended the highly subjective “highest and best” formula attempting to determine the “real value” of federal property. This legislation had bred a highly inefficient payment formula that was subject to local interpretation by assessors on the value of taxable property adjacent to eligible federal property. It created a simpler formula that removed subjectivity from the process.

It also prevented the need for the U.S. Department of Education to conduct regular, lengthy, resource-intensive audits of a school district’s Impact Aid application. Historically, these audits have resulted in delayed payments to every eligible district.

– Katie Zerr –

 

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